Flintridge Prep football Coach Antonio Harrison. (Cheryl A. Guerrero, Los Angeles Times / August 24, 2011)

"It's like feeding them to the wolves."

Antonio Harrison

Flintridge Prep coach on what it would have been like if he would have elected to play his team against Campbell Hall.

With dark clouds looming and the rain sure to fall on a bleak Tuesday afternoon in early October, Antonio Harrison made a disheartening decision for an unprecedented second time.

Nearly two weeks have passed since Harrison and his Flintridge Prep football team forfeited their Prep League opener against Webb — their second forfeit of the season after a loss to Campbell Hall on Sept 24.

Ahead of them this week is a return to action and a homecoming game against Viewpoint that the Rebels see as a game of the utmost importance. Not because of Prep League standing, playoff implications or rivalry, no, it's something more now.

"The way we respond in these next few games is how we can change the point of view of how football is perceived at Prep," says Rebels junior Kurt Kozacik.

Right now, football at Prep should be perceived as a program in danger with warm bodies falling by the wayside and getting slimmer and slimmer by the play, the week and, perhaps, the season. But for the 16 or "hopefully 17" players, according to Harrison, that will suit up on Saturday at La Cañada High and however many finish out the 2011 season, it's clear that this autumn's challenges and hardships, while they've unveiled some serious concerns about the Prep program, have also revealed who these Rebels truly are.

As in any sport and with any team, this football season for these 2011 Rebels will likely be judged by wins and losses. Currently, they are 1-4 with four consecutive losses — two by forfeit and the other two by more than 40 points. Looking deeper into the numbers, these last four weeks have seen only one Rebels football game, with two forfeits and a bye week cluttered around a lopsided loss to Malibu. And, of course, there's the depleted roster that has bounced between 12 and 19 — figures that prove eye-popping for all the wrong reasons.

But as the focus for Flintridge Prep has moved to forfeited games, you get a more accurate glimpse when you look at their practices.

There was hell week. That's when all the work started and too many stopped showing up.

"It's just kind of unfortunate, because we've been working so hard since hell week," says junior Chad Cosse, who's played defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker, offensive tackle, guard, punter and kicker. "After a certain point, you're just like c'mon, what else can happen?

"We want to play, but we can't when we have 15 players."

Just before hell week, Harrison's program lost 12 players combined from its junior varsity and varsity ranks.

So then, you take another look at the practices.

"We practice against air," Harrison says.

It's air or trash cans or sometimes JV opposition. But even then, Harrison has been forced to pull back the reins on physicality — not exactly an approach a football coach is excited to take, but in this season it's been a necessity. It's also been part of a vicious circle.

"The only game simulation they have is when they're in a game," Harrison says.

Indeed, one could only presume that a team denied full-speed contact isn't going to be ready or, at least, as ready as it should be come Friday or Saturday night when faced with live opposition.

And so this is the current state of Prep football. It is a program that won a CIF championship in 2003, culminating a run of more than a decade's worth of consecutive postseason appearances. Since then, the Rebels have put together but one winning season, three playoff appearances and not a single postseason win to speak of. It's an especially difficult reality for Harrison, a 28-year-old Prep graduate who played both ways on the football team, played three sports year-round and speaks about when it was Prep and archrival Pasadena Poly battling for league titles and taking lengthy playoff trips season after season.